This week in rasslin’ history: Andre the Giant invades Memphis wrestling, squashes Jimmy Hart’s First Family
A year later, such a phone call would have been impossible. But after a disastrous crowd of 3,834 at the Mid-South Coliseum for his card on Sunday, March 13, 1983, Memphis territory owner/promoter Jerry Jarrett phoned in a favor to Vince McMahon Sr: a booking date on André the Giant for next Monday night to spark the house.
Realizing that André was more effective as a money-making special attraction when used sparingly in his World Wrestling Federation, McMahon Sr. sought to protect the Giant’s image and livelihood by handling his worldwide bookings to ensure André made the most money possible when he wasn’t working for the WWF.
Despite feeling double-crossed by Jarrett and Jerry Lawler over the infamous “Night a Midget Beat André the Giant” Apter mag story in the ’70s, McMahon agreed to send the big man to Memphis as the King’s partner alongside the masked Stagger Lee (Koko Ware–not JYD) vs. Jimmy Hart’s trio of Bobby Eaton and the Bruise Brothers. Nearly the same main event, with Bill Dundee as Lawler and Stagger’s partner vs. the First Family members, drew the dismal house the previous week. (As a result, Dundee was abruptly switched back heel by next week.) Would André make a difference?
When the match was announced Saturday morning, March 19, Hart turned white as a ghost and burst into hysterics: Literally the biggest attraction in wrestling was coming to a do a number on the nefarious manager and his Family cronies. And when Lawler vowed that André wouldn’t stop until he had flattened Hart like a pancake, the skinny wimp nearly fainted on the air like he’d seen a ghost…or maybe Bigfoot.
The result: 6,162 fans (a jump of 2,328 paying customers) showed up to see Eaton, Porkchop Cash and Mad Dog get bounced around the Coliseum like a Wham-O Super Ball®. It was to be the Giant’s last appearance in Memphis until Vince McMahon Jr. invaded the city in late 1984 with a main event of the Giant vs. “Big” John Studd at the Cooke Convention Center. (Those early McMahon Jr. cards in Memphis bombed big time, drawing about 1,000 fans with big-name main events and very poor undercards.)
Still, while the house was up on March 21, Jarrett and Lawler were likely disappointed in the attendance. As they often did, the two switched booking duties, with Lawler taking over and promptly shaking up the undercard by having The Sheepherders, Jesse Barr and Adrian Street all drop a losers-leaves-town bout the following week on March 28. (Poor young manager Jimmy Cornette lost half of his Dynasty stable in one night.)
Still, while André made only a ripple as opposed to his usual big splash, his appearance was treated with much fanfare, with the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper featuring photos from the main event at the Coliseum–a rarity reserved for the likes of Andy Kaufman.
Special thanks to Mark James at memphiswrestlinghistory.com for the newspaper scans.